Film festivals often have a family feel, with the same directors returning again and again. Whether it’s selectors picking their favourite film-makers or the directors themselves aiming to get successive films ready for their preferred festival, Cannes is a perfect example; Ken Loach has had thirteen films in competition for the Palme d’Or, winning the top prize for the second time this year; Mike Leigh won on one of the five occasions he was up for the Palme d’Or; Joel Coen has had eight nominations (some alongside his brother) with one win; Pedro Almodóvar has been in the running five times – the list goes on, and on.
But Britain’s biggest independent film festival, Raindance, similarly has a cohort of otherwise unrelated directors and producers who, it seems, just can’t keep away.
“Raindance was always that really cool, rock-n-roll festival,” enthuses South African director Rudolf Buitendach, who’s screening his latest feature Selling Isobel at the festival this year. “They actually screened one of my first short films that I made as a young film-maker and I did a couple of their courses and then it just seemed to make sense to get my debut feature film shown at this festival.” That debut was Dark Hearts, a dark thriller about an artist who craved blood, which was nominated in the Raindance Best International Film category in 2012.
Like Buitendach, Jonnie Hurn is no stranger to Raindance. Although his crop-circle film In Circles is the first feature he’s directed to be screened at the festival, three films that he’s produced have been screened at Raindance in successive years, between 2010 and 2012.
“Raindance is the biggest independent film festival in Europe and the best independent film festival in the UK,” Hurn explains. “The London Film Festival is very elitist – you’ve got to know the right people – it’s a certain type of film – and also every film that shows at the London Film Festival will get a general release in the UK – the same with Edinburgh – but with Raindance, I’ve been coming to Raindance as a punter for years, and you see great films that never get a release. That’s what I love about it – you get a chance to see some really interesting, fascinating, different types of films that won’t get a general release and you won’t get a chance to see elsewhere.”
One of Hurn’s earlier films to be screened at Raindance was Do Elephants Pray? He was the writer, producer and star, but the director was Paul Hills. He’s also back this year, with a satanic horror called The Power. His association with Raindance goes back further than almost anyone except its creator Elliot Grove.
“I was at the first Raindance Film Festival in 1993, when it screened at the Prince Charles cinema, and I was lucky enough to have my film The Frontline – which was my first film – in that festival,” says Hills, who’s had a total of six films at Raindance over the years – three as director and three as executive producer. “Raindance is about independent film-makers,” he continues. “There isn’t really another film festival in the UK that cares about independent film makers. The London Film Festival has become something enormous and is the opposite of independent films. Independent films are made with independent money. Money which mainly isn’t even in the industry. It’s made under a different regime.”
With many of the featured directors having completed one or more of the film-making courses offered by Raindance throughout the rest of the year, it could be suggested that the selectors favour not only film-makers whose work they have previously screened but also those who’ve previously done training courses with the organisation.
“I don’t think there’s favouritism there. They didn’t take my second film. I was very offended,” laughs Buitendach. “But they loved this one.”
But it’s not just loyalty to the festival for its artistic outlook that draws film-makers back to Raindance. The selected directors believe that the exposure they get at the festival can make the difference between their film’s release going no further than its cast-and-crew screening and being picked up a worthwhile distributor.
“After Dark Hearts screened at Raindance, we did have a distribution offer out of the festival, so it can lead to that,” recalls Buitendach. “But there’s so much luck of the draw involved as well. But I think that for films that are made with love and very little money, the festival circuit’s becoming more and more important. In fact, my second film is on Netflix now but I don’t think Netflix would have looked at it if it hadn’t been to twelve film festivals, so hopefully for us, this will be the kicking off of further film festivals as well.”
This echoes Hurn’s experiences. “Because Raindance is a very prestigious film festival, it opens doors when you’re dealing with sales agents and distributors because it – it doesn’t set you above other films but it sets you apart from other films – it puts you away from the crowd of loads of other low budget movies, maybe of the same genre, and the fact that you have a film that’s premiering at a festival that’s as prestigious as Raindance, it makes people read your emails, it makes people take your calls, it makes people actually want to watch your film as they think if Raindance have selected it, there must be something there, so it helps to get your foot in the door.”
“Raindance is an opportunity for independent film-makers to show their films to the general public and to the industry,” agrees Hills. “It has a caché. It’s a rubber stamp. It shows that in this independent sector, these are the quality films that have been made in the last twelve months.”
With all film-makers having their minds on future projects, even before the current one is completed, don’t be surprised to see many of this year’s Raindance alumni returning for more in the years ahead.